In 2001 China’s authorities classified homosexuality as mental illness.
Fast-forward to today: Blued, a gay dating app built by a former China government policemen has wooed 15 million users, and debuted on NASDAQ with $85 million in venture finance.
“It’s remarkable,” says MA Baoli, a 43 year old former China state policeman who says he was fearful and confused when he first knew of his sexual orientation. “Browsing the internet back then I was bombarded with messages that said I was dirty, a pervert and mad.”
Ma’s road to success got underway in the 2000s when he started to publish a blog about his daily life as a gay man in China. Danlan.org was the name of the blog.
Back then, it was very risky to meet up or cruise as gay men in China. Desperate, people would scribble on toilet walls — “Let’s party on Sunday, Friday. Everyone being discovered be everybody.”
Ma’s blog grew into an influential internet destination for gay Chinese men, a place to source health, finance, party, or legislation news.
As prominence of the blog grew, so did the danger. In 2012, the success of the blog meant Ma was outed to his police employers. He walked away from the job for his own safety.
That year, he launched the app Blued. Just like other apps of its niche, Blued is used mainly by gay men seeking hookups and dates. Memberships, livestreams and ads debuted on the app in 2016.
Chatting about LGBT topics in China is a high risk endeavor. Activists complain of surveillance and active suppression of their freedoms. Blued had been repeatedly taken off the internet in its formative years but it has found a way to come back and be a resourceful app for its users.
Blued hosts an online platform to sell HIV testing kits and book appointments with doctors. Its success is tightly related to it being a go-to destination for gay men in China seeking fact-accurate information about HIV.
This has led authorities in China to begrudgingly accept the importance of Blued. “I’m astonished that authorities tell me they want to reach the gay community on HIV prevention programs. And they say the struggle to locate us,” Ma said.
Ma, who knows the personal hurt of being shunned by family and friends due to his sexual orientation, is adamant attitudes are changing in China. “A day when being gay is accepted and celebrated in China is on the way. No doubt.”
About the author:
Ray Mwareya is a freelance human rights writer in Ottawa, Canada.